It’s all about craft beer these days. From Budweiser’s advert during the Superbowl and their behind the scenes snapping up of craft breweries, to Thwaites’s Crafty Dan annexe, all the big boys want in on the scene, and Diageo are no different. They’re the biggest drinks company and the produce one of the best-selling beers in the world – Guinness. So, into the fray they have launched a pair of new beers, Guinness Dublin Porter and Guinness West Indies Porter.
The claim is that both beers have been based on old recipes from the olden dayes of Guinness’s long history, 1799 and 1801 respectively. This is standard fare for the established brewers, drawing on their history rather than the innovation of recent years, but the phrase ‘based-on’ gives them lots of wiggle room when it comes to producing a beer that will sit well in the current market.
You can tell it’s craft beer – he’s wearing a t-shirt
While Guinness stopped brewing porter back in the 1970s and the boundaries between porter and stout are fairly non-existent these days, it’s a bit of a thing to have Guinness stretch out into a new category, even if that category is really just putting a different word above the harp logo on the label. I tried the Dublin Porter a few weeks back and was unimpressed, finding it to be quite thin and lighter than it’s 3.8% ABV suggested, but the stronger West Indies Porter, at 6% ABV, had some promise due to its heritage.
I’m a fan of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the 7.5% variant often found in the ethnic food isles of supermarkets around the UK, with a non-specific origin attached. It takes the cold and bitter character of regular draught Guinness and adds in the chunk of rich sweetness that takes the beer to a very different level. It’s a popular beer, making up as much as half of Guinness’s worldwide sales, and the original West India Porter was its predecessor.
The West India Porter first appeared in 1801 and was a classic porter of the type we don’t see any more – produced in a time where temperature control was hard, and thus only brewed in certain months before being matured in wooden vats to round off the ‘freshness’. It was hoppy and strong, so as to be better able to survive export by ship to far off shores, and as it grew in popularity went everywhere there were Irish immigrants, from the Caribbean, its original West India destination, to Africa, India and Australia. It was renamed Foreign Extra Stout in 1849, better reflecting its worldwide export. The recipe has evolved over the years, and it is now brewed locally in many countries around the world. With less hops, a lower strength and a correspondingly different recipe, it’s quite a different beast to the old West India Porter, although still a decent beer.
The Guinness West Indies Porter – I assume the switch from India is due to Diageo’s usual naming paranoia, ensuring that no one thinks its being passed off as being from India – is a product of The Guinness Brewers Project, their inhouse development facility that press releases paint as a craft brewery, despite being hidden inside the St James Gate beer factory in Dublin. I have no problem with large brewers, but the current insistence on everything being small and crafty is starting to wear both me and my carefully cultivated, halfway-between-beer-hipster-and-CAMRA-member beard down1.
The beer itself, makes up for the annoyance and the let-down of the Dublin Porter. Rich and chocolatey on the nose, with some bitter chocolate malt, sweet and creamy coffee and a touch of acidity, it continues those ideas onto the palate: thick and creamy in texture, with treacle toffee, bitter coffee and dark chocolate, growing sourness and some sharp acidity. It hangs around for a little bit, with damp coffee grounds and lots of deeply roasted malt ensuring that it doesn’t get cloying.
It’s a bit lighter than Foreign Extra Stout, without as much of the sweetness I find there, and it’s better for it. It’s not quite as heavy, which I miss, but it’s a well-balanced dark beer, that you could probably drink more than one of if you wanted. It’s also not nestled amongst the Dragon Stout and bottles of Carib like the Foreign Extra Sout, which can only be a good thing. I hope it hangs around for a while as it’s as good a supermarket porter as I’ve found in recent times.
Guinness West Indies Porter
Irish Stout, 6%ABV. ~£2.5o per 500ml
1 My beard has recently been trimmed and I no longer pass for either CAMRA member or beer hipster. I have no tribe. Woe.